South Africa managed to post a below-par 204 batting first in Potchefstroom, thanks largely to a patient, well-paced 70 from Farhaan Behardien.
It was clear from quite early on that South Africa would struggle as they slumped to 76-4 on a pitch devoid of any pace.
The dismissals were largely soft, a combination of bad timing and poor shot selection. Behardien (70 off 87) was the standout, playing an innings of maturity and intelligence which was not only massively important for his team, but also for the batsman himself as he tries to establish himself in the ODI side.
Behardien got out at the start of the 46th over trying to go big but hitting the ball high in the air to offer a comfortable catch for Kane Williamson off the bowling of Doug Bracewell. The dismissal brought to an end a partnership of 54 runs which he shared with Vernon Philander (30 not out).
AB de Villiers won the toss and decided to bat first but the batsmen failed to cope with the lack of pace in the wicket. Hashim Amla chased a wide delivery and got caught at third man, while Morne van Wyk tried to cut one too close to his body and chopped it on to his stumps instead.
Rilee Rossouw (39) and De Villiers (31) turned things around for a while with a 48-run partnership, but Rossouw mistimed a drive to give the visitors a crucial wicket. Rossouw was dropped off the second ball he faced when Adam Milne failed to hold on to a return catch which, in fairness, was hit very hard back at him.
Milne also afforded Behardien a second life when he dropped another return catch with the batsman on 37.
This was a situation tailor-made for the likes of Behardien and David Wiese (8 off 24) to show their mettle, but only Behardien grabbed the opportunity after Wiese tried, unnecessarily, to sweep across the line and was trapped lbw. He was, however, perhaps a bit unlucky as replays showed the majority of the ball landed outside leg-stump.
You got the feeling South Africa missed someone like Faf du Plessis, especially on a slow wicket like this.
A final judgement on the surface can only be made after both teams have batted on it, but the sense is that South Africa would have to bowl really well to prevent the Black Caps from levelling the series.